ATP

Rahm wants to emulate Nadal and transcend his sport

By Sports Desk October 05, 2021

Jon Rahm hopes to "transcend golf and become an idol", echoing the achievements of tennis star and compatriot Rafael Nadal.

Rahm, who lives in America, has been amazed by his level of fame back home in Spain, where he is preparing for the Iberian swing of the European Tour.

This week he will seek to claim a third consecutive Open de Espana title in Madrid, with the world number one having risen to a level where he is instantly recognisable on the streets of the capital.

"It is difficult to be an idol when I do not live here," said the U.S. Open champion. "I see it when I spend a certain amount of time here, when you reach a certain level and even more so today with social media, because you reach more people and you realise the impact that you have.

"It only took 30 seconds for someone to recognise me when I left the hotel. If you were to tell me that this will happen to me in Bilbao, my hometown, I could understand it.

"I imagine that Madrid is full of sportsmen, but to be recognised so quickly is something I was not aware of.

"My parents and my friends tell me, but until I see it for my myself I do not realise it too much. Hopefully, I will transcend golf and become an idol."

Asked about an esteemed selection of his fellow countrymen – namely Nadal, former NBA stalwart Pau Gasol, and two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso – and the level of fame they have achieved, Rahm chose the 20-time grand slam winner as the one he would most like to emulate.

"You have named three sportsmen that have been my idols, three that I have seen competing, especially Rafa, who I already said is an idol and a model for me to learn from," said Rahm.

"I don't know if I will reach the level in golf that he reached in tennis because nowadays it's very competitive, but if I can be an idol for any Spanish kid, that would be welcome."

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    Collins was imperious in her second major semi-final on Rod Laver Arena, taking just an hour and 18 minutes to beat Swiatek 6-4 6-1.

    The 28-year-old American's emphatic victory was her second over a top-10 opponent in a grand slam.

    Collins was relentless as a struggling Swiatek had no answer to her aggressive approach, and the 27th seed will attempt to tear up the script by denying Barty a first Australian Open title on Saturday.

    It was only last April that the Florida native underwent emergency surgery for endometriosis, an extremely painful condition in which tissue similar to that which lines the uterus grows outside of it.

    Collins was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2018, but she has broken new ground for her career at Melbourne Park, dropping only two sets en route to the final.

    She said in an on-court interview following the win over Swiatek: "It feels amazing. It's been such a journey, and it doesn't happen overnight. So many years of hard work and hours at an early age on court.

    "Yesterday I was talking about all the early mornings my dad would get up with me and practise before school. It's just incredible to be on this stage and especially with the health challenges. I'm just so grateful, and I couldn't be happier."

    Collins beat world number one Barty to reach the Adelaide International quarter-finals last year, having lost their previous three meetings, and the world number 30 will embrace such a big occasion this weekend.

    She said: "We've had some incredible battles over the years. It's going to be really spectacular, with the energy the fans bring, whether they are for me or for my opponent.

    "I think we're just so grateful after everything with COVID to have incredible energy and people here supporting us."

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    Ash Barty is ready for "one last crack" on Saturday when she will bid to become a first home winner of the Australian Open women's singles in over 40 years.

    The 25-year-old Queenslander powered through to the third grand slam final of her career with a clinical 6-1 6-3 win over Madison Keys on Thursday.

    She is 2-0 for her past two finals in the majors, taking titles at the 2019 French Open and last year at Wimbledon, and has looked an unstoppable force in Melbourne.

    That theory will be put to the test by Danielle Collins, the 28-year-old big-hitting American who dismantled Iga Swiatek's game in the second semi-final to reach a first slam final.

    Barty is dialled in and up for the challenge, looking to land the title that was last won by an Australian when Chris O'Neil triumphed at the 1978 tournament.

    "It's fun, it's brilliant to be playing in the business end of your home slam," Barty said in a news conference.

    "Saturday's going to be a new experience for me. So I'll go out there and embrace it, smile, try and do the best that I can, and whatever happens, happens.

    "It's been an incredible January and incredible summer for us, and I'm really looking forward to having one last crack here, to really go out and enjoy it."

    Wendy Turnbull was the last Australian finalist in the women's singles, way back in 1980, and the scale of the achievement in ending the long wait is not lost on Barty, who has already won doubles and singles titles this month at the Adelaide International.

    "To be in the finals weekend of your home grand slam is what a lot of Aussie players dream of," she added.

    This is modesty, but Barty is now a long-standing world number one, and therefore anything but lifting the trophy would be a disappointment at this stage, with 27th seed Collins looking to spring what would be a major upset.

    Barty said she was able to "play the match on our terms" against Keys, pointing to her on-court effort being a collaboration with her support team.

     

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    "It's tough, it sucks. She's just playing incredibly well," Keys said. "You have a game plan in your head, but she's just executing everything so well.

    "She's serving incredibly well, so you don't get any free points on that; her slice is coming in so much lower and deeper than it was in the past, so it's hard to do anything on that; and then you try to play to her forehand and she can open you up there.

    "She's so locked in and focused. I've played her a handful of times and this is easily the best I think she's ever been playing."

    Barty, who dabbled with cricket before focusing on tennis, appears to have a work-life balance that would be the envy of many, finding it no problem to unwind once she leaves the gates of Melbourne Park. Enjoying the early Australian dominance in the women's Ashes has only brightened her mood.

    "It's pretty easy for me. When I'm not here, I don't think about the tennis too much," she said. "I've got the women's Ashes to watch, which is brilliant, read a book, few coffees, and we're set."

    The young Barty who first visited the Australian Open before hitting her teenage years, for a training camp, would stand in awe of the player she has become.

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    "My first taste of it was in the juniors and I loved it. Being able to get a taste of that kind of lit the flame. You wonder what you can achieve."

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    Danielle Collins will face home favourite Ash Barty in her first grand slam final at the Australian Open after dispatching Iga Swiatek in straight sets.

    Playing in only her second major semi-final at the age of 28, an assured Collins rose to the occasion to win 6-4 6-1 in dominant fashion on Rod Laver Arena.

    The 27th seed from the United States was beaten by Petra Kvitova in the last four of the first grand slam of the year at Melbourne Park three years ago, but she was not to be denied on this occasion.

    Swiatek was unable to become the first Polish woman to reach the final of this tournament, struggling with her serve from the start as her bid to win a second grand slam title came to a halt and Collins booked a showdown with world number one Barty on Saturday.

    Collins capitalised on a shaky start from the 2020 French Open champion, breaking when the seventh seed sprayed a forehand long after double-faulting in a poor first service game.

    An aggressive Collins was a double-break up at 3-0 after her out-of-sorts opponent drilled a backhand wide, but Swiatek sprung into life, winning back-to-back games to reduce the deficit to 4-2.

    Swiatek trailed 5-2 after being broken for a third time as she struggled with her second serve and although Collins failed to serve out the set at the first attempt, she made no mistake second time around after firing down two aces.

    The Florida native was in the zone, staying on her feet during changeovers, and she struck another blow by breaking in the first game of the second set with a cross-court backhand winner.

    Swiatek's frustration mounted as her service woes continued, Collins near flawless with her backhand a potent weapon as she broke again to lead 3-0.

    The ice-cool world number 30 showed not a hint of nerves, finishing off the job with another break after earning two match points with a glorious forehand winner and forcing a backhand error from Swiatek to move into the final.

     

    DATA SLAM: Imperious Collins a class apart as Swiatek is let down by her serve

    While Collins was at her very best in a brilliant performance, Swiatek looked like she did not know what had hit her.

    Swiatek won only three of the 21 points behind her tentative second serve after landing only 60 per cent of her first serves in, and the 20-year-old fell into the trap of feeding Collins' dangerous backhand far too often.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

    Collins – 27/13
    Swiatek – 12/13

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

    Collins – 7/4
    Swiatek – 1/4

    BREAK POINTS WON

    Collins – 6/10
    Swiatek – 2/3

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